- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

George Washington center Pops Mensah-Bonsu likely will miss the rest of the regular season and possibly the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament with a meniscus tear in his left knee, leaving the sixth-ranked Colonials without their second-leading scorer as they try to secure a high seed in next month’s NCAA tournament.

Mensah-Bonsu, who averages 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds for GW (23-1, 13-0), injured his knee during the first half of Wednesday’s 77-65 win against La Salle. He did not return.

“We are anticipating that he will be back within a couple weeks,” coach Karl Hobbs said yesterday after practice.

The Colonials have three regular season games left — tomorrow at Fordham, March 1 at St. Bonaventure and home against Charlotte March 4 — before the A-10 conference tournament begins next month. GW earned a bye in the first round and Mensah-Bonsu, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior could be back by the time the Colonials play in the quarterfinals March 9, or perhaps, for the NCAA tournament the following week.

“We are optimistic,” said Hobbs, whose team has won a program-best 15 straight and can lock up the A-10 regular-season title with a win tomorrow.

Mensah-Bonsu appeared to get tangled with La Salle’s Mike St. John just before halftime Wednesday. He immediately clutched his left knee before limping over to the bench while wincing in pain.

The center from London has played especially well lately, leading the team with 37 blocks and 57.2 percent shooting. Mensah-Bonsu was not at practice yesterday, but is expected to travel with the team.

“[Mensah-Bonsu] is guy that can change games for us,” Hobbs said. “That’s the thing we will miss most. What I think we are going to need to do is get out and play great defense and just not fall behind in games. When you don’t have the guy that you can just throw the ball into to get easy baskets, it puts a little bit more pressure on us offensively.”

Seldom-used Alex Kireev took his place in the second half, but the 6-foot-11 senior played only five minutes as Hobbs went with a smaller, quicker and more athletic lineup. Kireev, a senior from Ukraine averaging 2.3 points in 6.4 minutes a game, is expected to have an enhanced role along with backup forwards Robert Diggs and Regis Koundjia.

Koundjia took advantage of his increased role in the win against La Salle. The 6-8 transfer from LSU had a season-high 13 points, all in the second half, along with five assists in a season-high 27 minutes overall. Diggs, a 6-8 freshman from Gwynn Park High School, has averaged 1.5 points in seven minutes a contest.

The loss of Mensah-Bonsu means the Colonials have lost two big men in a week. Montrell McDonald, a 6-7 freshman who averaged 13.1 minutes off the bench, missed the past two games after being suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules. Hobbs said his status has not changed.

“We are going to continue to play the way we have been,” Hobbs said. “It’s a great opportunity for some guys to step up. … I think they will respond to the challenge.”

Without Mensah-Bonsu, the offense will likely alter from a post-oriented attack to feature more perimeter players, as defenses won’t have to concern themselves with double- and triple-teaming the Colonials’ powerful center. Opponents will focus more on shutting down explosive guards like leading-scorer Danilo Pinnock (14.6 points), Maureece Rice (12.0 points) and Carl Elliott (11.1 points).

Elliott was not aware of the severity of Mensah-Bonsu’s injury until he was informed by reporters after yesterday’s practice, but vowed it won’t slow the remarkable season.

“Now I guess it is up to us guards to do more penetrating and getting our noses in there and rebounding more,” said the junior point guard who has made 47.1 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 4.1 assists. “I would say it will open up the court a little more. They are not going to be clogged up in the paint anymore because he might not be in there. I think it is going to help slightly in the offense because it will spread the floor out more.”

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